What we know about how we live, is that our minds are always searching for ways to keep us alive. And it takes our past experiences as proof that because we have survived them, then we can repeat those behaviours. As an example, if the first time you have been exposed, in some way to a cat, and this one scared you badly, then your mind will note that cats, equal danger. If the next time you see a cat, a similar situation happens, then it reinforces the same processing and will want you to avoid cats. As that will keep you safe.
From the moment we are born we have two realities of what motherhood is. On one hand, is the one coming from your personal experience, meaning how your mother mothered you. On the other hand, we have what society has portraited as the “typical family”. That second one is a construct of what is most acceptable for the majority of the people, since one of the main focuses, is to use that image of the ideal family, to connect to a wider audience and sell something.
1. Society and Mothers
Society plays a role in how we perceive what motherhood should be like. Women are raised believing the fairy tale version rather than the true story. And the way we construct our own idea of motherhood will depend on the experiences we had (what our minds consider to be safe) and the sense of connection with the community (sense of belonging being interpreted as a safe space to be).
It's a common assumption that there is one version of what motherhood is. But it's not. How we perceive motherhood depends on the society we live in and the people around us. In most western societies, women are raised with a fairy tale version of what mothers should be like: happy, fulfilled, and content. In reality, most mothers are stressed and there is a great risk of not having the time (or energy) to balance the emotions brought up by motherhood.
A woman's life is changed irrevocably the moment she becomes a mother and is required to take on the responsibility of raising a child.
The way that our culture views mothers affect the way that mothers themselves view themselves. Many mothers internalise these cultural norms, leading to an increased risk of depression. Motherhood is often portrayed as a woman’s ultimate achievement. They are depicted to be perfect mothers who never lose their patience, can do it all, and always have their kids’ interests at heart. But the reality is far from this. Most mothers feel overwhelmed with exhaustion, frustration, and guilt.
2. How you created your own story
As we grow up, part of our development and part of our mind is to predict our future. Remember how the mind likes to keep you always safe? When processing the information from your past, it will make a calculation on how your future should look like. And it doesn’t take into account many variables that you haven’t experienced yet.
The idea of how you will be as a mother, as mentioned earlier, comes from what you have been exposed to. Also role models (some good and some not so good ones). Now, when you take into account the experience of how your mother was with you when you were a baby, you can go by photos or stories. You will not have the full picture, and your mind will fill in those gaps with what you get from society. If you look at how mothers are portrait after having a baby: calm, in awe with their baby, feeding their babies happily, no major mood swings, and the photo of the happy family. As a society, we just beginning to talk more openly about the reality of the postpartum period, the difficulties we face, and how it also affects our partners (and the relationship).
When you reflect on how you thought motherhood would be; what was the part that surprised you the most? Most likely, because you were not expecting it, or not expecting to experience it yourself.
3. Your New Family
For some people, when the first baby is born, is when the new family is consolidated. This means, that you are creating a family, that will most likely, be different from the family you have grown up with. That idea, that you have created throughout your life, of how motherhood would be; would hardly have great quality or description of the support you would get (or not) from your other half.
However, when the reality hits, that counterpart of motherhood – fatherhood- comes loaded with their own idea of how they see you will raise your baby and the new dynamic of this family that it is now the 3 of you. Whilst you will be together for the main reason that is compatibility, which in essence means that you would be a great team. As in any team, there are times when compromises are needed to be made, and when support needs to be a key ingredient. In one way or another, it will change that idea that you had of motherhood.
Your mind will try to predict the best and safest way to be a mother, and the likelihood of that being to the same as your reality is quite small. And this is not a bad thing (even if your mind thinks you might be in danger). It is an opportunity to be open to this new phase of your life that is motherhood, an amazing title that has a unique job description in every case. Notice, when your mind goes into your “danger zone” processing and assure it that sometimes there is no danger of something new. It is just new information, for us to understand how to use it for our benefit.
About the author
Laura Abba is a mum of two; founder of Mind the Mother and a Maternal Coach. She helps women to feel better. Either through 121 sessions, or group workshops or tailored hypnobirthing courses; she supports mothers by nurturing their minds to feel more confident and in control.